From Edgar Wright (the guy who directed Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, At World’s End and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) comes a film that’s like the illegitimate child of Pulp Fiction and La La Land. Maybe. I haven’t seen La La Land, but I get impression that it has some of the same sensibilities.
The central character here is Baby (Ansel Elgort), a preternaturally gifted driver who’s in the employ of Doc (Kevin Spacey), a criminal mastermind who delights in a good bank heist. There’s a rotating group of toughs that Doc uses for his jobs, but the ones that figure most prominently in the story are Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González) and Bats (Jamie Foxx).
Baby is clearly just working these jobs to clear a debt to Doc, but his desire to be clear of the crime scene is amped up by the appearance in his life of Debora (Lily James), a waitress who seems to get Baby when he doesn’t necessarily get himself. Nearly every feature of his character is designed to remind you that he’s been emotionally stunted by the death of his parents (particularly his mom).
The Pulp Fictionness of the film is the violence, the disregard for law and order, the constant tension between all of the criminal characters. Perhaps the most interesting dynamic is between Bats and Buddy. They have a couple of great scenes. And, of course, everyone is also filtered through Baby. Sometimes these people feel like a kind of dysfunctional family. Sometimes they feel extremely dangerous. These relationships are thrown into relief by the adorable way Baby cares for his ailing foster father Joseph (CJ Jones).
The La La Landness of the film is how it’s driven, beginning to end, by the soundtrack. Borrowing a little from Guardians of the Galaxy, Baby uses a collection of iPods to continuously curate the soundtrack of his life. He uses music to score his walk to get coffee, to romance Debora at the laundromat, and, of course, to drive.
The film never lets us forget that Baby’s gifts are most effective behind the wheel of a car. I don’t know how many cars he drives in this film, but it’s a lot, and he’s adept at controlling every one of them, leading police and others on astonishing chases through the streets of Atlanta.
For the first half of the film, I was liking it. Then, in the second half, when the story started jerking and jiving in directions I didn’t expect, I started loving it. If you don’t mind your crime drama sprinkled with a little bit of “movie magic”, you’ll probably love it, too.